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What is BATMAN: YEAR ONE? : An Intro to the Classic Comic by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli


Hi everyone, this is For the Love of Comics,
and in today’s episode, we’ll be talking about Batman: Year One, the classic Batman story
written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzuchelli, with colors -and ‘re-colors’-
by Richmond Lewis. We’ll be answering the questions ‘What is
Batman: Year One?’, What is it about?’, and most importantly, ‘What makes it special?’ Which it is; even today, more than thirty
years after Year One was first published, it remains a sleek, lean, tense, and pretty
grounded look at one of the world’s most famous superheroes,
and can be enjoyed irrespective of what you have and have not read before. This video will be a general introduction
and me telling you why I love it, just like all our ‘What is…?’ videos. In the upcoming weeks,
we plan to upload some closer looks at various editions of Year One,
so be sure to check back in! Or, if you haven’t already, subscribe and
click on the bell icon to be notified of new uploads. But right now, let’s get to
What is ‘Batman: Year One?’ Year One was originally published in 1987
as four issues of the monthly Batman series from DC Comics,
specifically, numbers 404, 405, 406 and 407, between February and May. Written by Frank Miller, and illustrated by
David Mazzuchelli, these four chapters told a complete and stand-alone
story of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon arriving in Gotham
City, and separately establishing themselves within
it over the course of one year. The name of this four issue arc was Year One
which was changed to Batman: Year One when the collected edition was published,
ten years later in 1997. Batman: Year One was a commercial and critical
success, both when originally published and when collected and reprinted,
but, if anything, its repuation has only increased with the passing years. Year One never reached the sales or the historical
significance of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, published a year
before in 1986, but many fans and critics feel Year One, with
its noir take on a gangsters-and-corruption environment,
is the more accomplished work. Personally, I agree with them. Batman: Year One starts with both Bruce Wayne,
long-absent billionaire heir, returning to Gotham City,
as well as James Gordon, a police lieutenant, being transferred into Gotham, in what looks
like punishment for something. From here, the story proceeds in parallel,
following Gordon as he encounters corruption within the police department and town hall,
as well as Bruce Wayne, who has been preparing himself over many years for a war on crime,
but is unsure of how to proceed. The book takes us through 12 months in which
Bruce Wayne finds his feet and establishes himself as the vigilante Batman, working his
way up the food chain; and Jim Gordon makes a name for himself inspite
of the rot around him, and becomes a threat to the status quo himself. Their positions on either side of the law,
and the establishing of the connection between them, is the backbone of the story. But the book also touches upon how crime at
the lowest levels and corruption at the highest feed off of each other and enable each other,
and also the tolls that living by certain principles can have on you. Batman: Year One is a simply but tightly plotted,
fast paced, lean-and-mean, gritty superhero noir. It stays grounded by forgoing colourfully
costumed villains, and plots of world domination, and focusing instead on organised crime and
political corruption as the central ‘evils’. But, in my opinion, there are two things in
particular that put Year One above and beyond just being ‘a good superhero comic’,
and take it into ‘great comic’ levels. The first is the art style of David Mazzuchelli. It is sleek and simple, full of just the right
detail. The action feels brutal; the shadowy, almost
supernatural appearance of Batman is wonderfully grounded in reality;
and the environments of Gotham City feel as dark and dangerous in the penthouses as they
do on the streets. Mazzucheli’s art matches perfectly with Miller’s
writing, which runs the risk of getting overheated
a couple of times, but is wonderfully pulled back by the restrained
yet stylish visual presentation. And that’s the winning combo for me here:
heated writing, chilled art! The second thing that elevates Batman: Year
One over so many others, for me, is something I don’t see discussed a lot,
even though it is extremely obvious to any one who has read this book:
That is the storytelling decision to be as much Gordon’s story as it is Wayne’s or Batman’s. In fact, I did a rough panel count, Gordon’s
story takes up around 230 panels where Wayne and Batman take 245 – that’s pretty close. And really, from the very first page, through
every chapter, Gordon and Bruce Wayne mirror each other,
at times reaching toward the same goal through different means,
at other times placed in opposition to each other without wanting it. This ‘mirroring’ is so boldly and simply done,
with so much packed into essentially vignettes making up a lean story,
that it would take a separate video to analyze this thoroughly. But Gordon is the emotional and moral center
of the story; he arguably accomplishes more with far less;
and it is only after establishing a relationship with him right at the end of the book
do we feel that Bruce Wayne is finally Batman. By allowing us to have Gordon going through
everyday crises with both his work and his marriage,
and showing us the ultimately heroic way he tackles them,
Year One keeps Batman in the shadows, coming to us through hardboiled narration and in
action scenes. This not only maintains for Batman a dark-and-tortured,
mysterious-and-laconic image, but at the same time allows us to transfer some
of those emotional reactions for Gordon onto Batman when they eventually connect. In a comic where the ‘hero’ is learning to
become ‘super’, it’s the growth of the unsuper hero getting equal time,
and him making us like the ‘superhero’ by proxy, all through tight writing and slickly
balanced art, that puts Batman Year One into that other
level for me. And that’s where I’ll leave it for today,
although I’ll be returning to this comic soon, watch this space! If you enjoyed this video, consider hitting
that like button, and as always we’d love to have your questions
and comments down below. This has been For The Love of Comics – thank
you for watching!

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15 thoughts on “What is BATMAN: YEAR ONE? : An Intro to the Classic Comic by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

  1. Love this video. It was so well put together. Thank you like always and can't wait to see more. Year one is just a great story and a joy to read.

  2. Finally a superhero comics…And it is my fav – Batman..Hope u will introduce more classic superhero comics in upcoming videos…
    One more suggestion -please introduce horror comics too…
    Great work as always bro..Keep going…

  3. Has it been 30 years already?!? Holy Moley! I want to add my name to the list of people who thinks that Batman: Year One is a MUCH better work than Dark Knight Returns… Dark Knight Returns was a better seller because of various reasons. I think it was the first comic book published in the Prestige format (or at least one of the first), it was a stand alone project with high quality paper, raw and powerful almost surealist violent art in garish colors. It was heavily promoted by DC. Year One was "only" another story arc part of the regular ongoing long running Batman title. Like many DC series were doing at the time, it was an obligatory resetting one of DC classic characters in it's post-Crisis universe, following John Byrne's reboot of Superman, and George Perez's relaunch of Wonder Woman. Batman: Year One was everything Dark Knight Returns was not: beautifully drawn in a very realistic classical style (Mazzuchelli's art reminded me of Alex Toth and masters of the old adventure comic strips), toned down colors printed on regular comic book paper. Batman: Year One may have had half the pages of Dark Knight Returns, but it told a much, much richer story. And like you said at the beginning of your video, I think that time has been kinder to it than to Dark Knight Returns, which to me represents Frank Miller's beginning of his descent into his … lets say "unhinged" vision of the world.

  4. Add to this excellent brief examination, that after [Batman] Year One, suddenly the door was flung open to other 'early in the life of' stories, with nearly every major character having not just the obligatory "Origin Story," but a "year-one story" as well; this effect continues into the present, now opening the other end of a character's life, the "Old Man" story, with Old Man Logan/Wolverine, and recently several others. While, most notably, Superman has long had a series of "old man" Superman stories, they've never seemed to me, at least, to have been one-off, "imaginary" stories, without the cachet modern takes on the [is it now a genre?] theme of SoandSo as an older character.

  5. I think you should check out Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker. It focuses on the cops of GCPD with Batman restricted to cameo appearances. It is almost completely grounded on reality.May be one of the finest police procedural comic book.

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